The bookstore that was hailed for showcasing African literature has left independent authors and publishers high and dry
At least 20 authors have accused the owners of African Flavour Books, stockists of African literature and literature in indigenous languages, of absconding with an undisclosed amount of money owed to independent authors and publishers.
Husband and wife Fortiscue and Nokuthula Helepi closed their Braamfontein bookstore in February. At the time, they told Wits Vuvuzela the closure was due to a lack of sales at the store they had opened in 2017, following the success of their original store which opened its doors in 2015 in Vanderbijlpark.
African Flavour Books operated on a consignment basis, paying authors and publishers monthly for sales. However, toward the end of 2018, writers and publishers were not paid monies due to them.
Shubnum Khan, author of Onion Tears said that she was unaware of the status of the bookstore until she attended the Abantu Book Festival in December 2018 and was told by fellow writers that she was one of many authors that hadn’t been paid.
While Khan said she is owed R2000, Bare author Jackie Phamotse said she is owed more than R10 000. “The owners of the store have disappeared on me – 10 months of no communication about my outstanding fees. I even tried locating them but with no success. It is unbelievable that a store we championed has become our worst nightmare.”
Mabotseba Masangane, author and publisher at Re Ya Bala (RYB) Publishers said, “After launching Laughing in My Father’s Voice in August last year, I called them weekly to enquire about money from the sales as well as older sales because most of our stories had been sold in their store. I’ve sent them invoices and emails. I even went to their store but couldn’t find any help.”
Despite these signs of trouble, in an article published in Business Day on November 1, 2018, about the opening of African Flavour Gallery in Vanderbijlpark, the Helepis said they planned to open a third bookstore in Soweto in 2019 as well as an African Flavour Research Library.
Last month, independent authors, including Vangile Gantsho (@Vangi22) took to Twitter about their monetary losses.
Imagine selling your books to African Flavour Books and them closing shop and disappearing off the face of the earth. With your money. Thousands of Rands just like that.
Imagine they block you & don't respond to your calls or emails. Imagine.
Yhu Bayatyhafisa abantu kodwa!
— Sizilebel’uba sizalwa ngobani (@Vangi22) April 8, 2019
Seventeeen authors then signed a petition calling for the Sunday Times to remove Fortiscue as one of the judges for the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction. The newspaper tweeted in response: “The Sunday Times has learned with regret of the difficulties being faced by African Flavour Books and its proprietor Fortiscue Helepi, and hopes that the situation will be resolved. Until then, the conveners and Mr Helepi have decided it is best that he step down as a judge for the 2019 Alan Paton Award.”
According to Thabiso Afurakan Mohare, co-founder of Word n Sound Live Literature Company, the Sunday Times tweet portrayed Helepi as ‘woe is me’. “I don’t think he is remorseful,” he said.
The unethical treatment of writers and publishers extended to staff, according to Dr Danai Mupotsa, the head of the African Literature department at Wits. She told Wits Vuvuzela that undergraduate students in African Literature sold books for African Flavour Books during the 2017 Abantu Book Festival. She said the students, who did not want to be named, were “overworked and underpaid”.
After initially agreeing to give the couple’s side of the story to Wits Vuvuzela, Fortiscue would not answer phone calls or respond to emails.
FEATURED IMAGE: African Flavour Books when it was still in operation in Braamfontein. Photo: Files
- Wits Vuvuzela, Closed chapter: African Flavour bookstore shuts its doors for good, Feb 9, 2019
- Wits Vuvuzela, Chapter on textbook closed, Mar 15, 2019
- Wits Vuvuzela, ‘I would make the same decision again’, Mar 15, 2019